On the basis of the articles presented in the thematic issue of the ‘Journal of Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Societies (JRAT)’, this article reflects upon the structures of Interreligious Dialogue (IRD) in Europe. On the one hand, it proposes to have a closer look at regional patterns of religions in public space, at sub-national patterns of IRD-activities as well as different social forms of IRD-activities. On the other hand, it makes the point that research has to critically re-assess concepts such as the Dialogue-Movement as well as religious plurality for the study of IRD-activities.
1 Bringing the Threads Together
As put forward in the introduction, the authors of the present issue of JRAT – the Journal for Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Societies1 – set out to strengthen a fairly recent strand of present-day research on Interreligious Dialogue (IRD) by putting particular emphasis on the socio-cultural embeddedness of IRD-activities in Europe. Correspondingly, the previous articles invited their readers to think of dialogue as a socio-cultural phenomenon to better understand the position of religion in present-day societies.
This endeavour has been divided into three distinct yet interrelated parts: The first part (i.e. articles 2 to 3) has brought together two articles that reflect on distinct disciplinary perspectives on IRD. The second part (i.e. articles 4 to 13) presents ten qualitatively oriented case studies on IRD-activities in selected European countries. And the third part (i.e. articles 14 to 16) consists of three articles (including the present one) that build upon the previous reflections and elaborate on the socio-cultural position of IRD from different systematic perspectives.
Within this framework, the following reflections intend to say more about the potentials of the analysis of IRD for the understanding of religion in present-day European societies. In the first instance, they will argue that an analysis of IRD ‘in context’ is adding a highly productive dimension to the analysis of dialogue. Furthermore, they will add new twists to central categories of IRD-research (i.e. the notion of the ‘IRD-Movement’ and the significance of pluralization processes) and will open further dimensions to the analysis of IRD-activities (i.e. the discursive and the regional dimension as well as the dimension of sub-national patterns and different social forms of dialogue-activities).
Along those lines, the article at hand will at first recapitulate the varied features of an analysis of IRD ‘in context’ (2). On this basis, it will reconsider the usefulness of the categories of ‘central religion’ and ‘religious pluralization’ for the analysis of IRD and will suggest to take a look at further categories (3). The article closes with remarks on the role of religion in European societies that can be drawn from the analysis of IRD-activities (4).
2 Analyzing IRD ‘in Context’
To bring the different threads of the present issue of JRAT together, one has to read its contributions as a comparative enterprise from an interdisciplinary perspective. Among many other things, the previous chapters have been eye-opening with regards to the multi-fold ways in which IRD can be framed academically. While all analyses of the present issue of JRAT focus upon IRD-activities within their socio-cultural contexts, they do it from a variety of distinct disciplinary perspectives – including different strands of Religious Studies, Sociology and Theology as well as Education and Anthropology.
More specifically, the papers by Ruth Vilà, Assumpta Aneas and Montse Freixa2 (written from the point of view of Education) and by Regina Polak3 (from the point of view of Roman Catholic Theology) reflect upon the different ways, in which disciplinary perspectives shape the assessment of IRD. The paper by Vilà/Aneas/Freixa underlines that Education tends to favour a take on IRD that is structured by the practical demand to facilitate educational processes. And the theological paper by Regina Polak presents and discusses a disciplinary take on IRD that is fundamentally shaped by references to very general systems of symbols.
On the basis of these two papers, it is no longer surprising that the national case analyses of the present issue draw a multi-faceted picture of the developments of IRD-activities in Europe: On the one hand, the case studies document parallel developments that can be found in almost all the national contexts under scrutiny: All over Europe, the national cases display an increase of IRD-activities – especially in the public sphere. At the same time, they show that this is a rather recent development that gained initial momentum during the 1970s and reached a preliminary peak during the 2010s.
On the other hand, the case analyses underline significant differences: They highlight, for example, the varying characteristics of state-sponsored and grass-roots activities – with regards to content as well as social structure (especially in the articles on Switzerland,4 Sweden5 and Great Britain6). They also illustrate the multi-fold relationships between IRD-initiatives and religious hierarchies and their consequences for concrete IRD-activities (especially in the Spanish7 and Danish8 cases). And finally, they direct the attention towards the various links between IRD-activities and state institutions as well as international socio-political movements (especially in the cases of Turkey,9 North Macedonia10 and Serbia11).
These diverse observations open an interesting perspective on one of the central categories of present-day IRD-research – the category of the IRD-movement.12 The classic definition of a social movement by Charles Tilly and Lesley J. Wood, argues that
Social movements ‘emerged from an innovative, consequential synthesis of three elements: 1. A sustained, organized public effort making collective claims on target authorities [(a campaign)]; 2. Employment of combinations from among the following forms of political actions: creation of special-purpose associations and coalitions, public meetings, solemn processions, vigils, rallies, demonstrations, petition drives, statements to and in public media, and pamphleteering [(the social movement repertoire)]; and 3. Participants’ concerted public representations of WUNC: worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment on the part of themselves and/or their constituencies [(WUNC displays)].’13
Against this conceptual framework, the analyses of the present issue draw particular attention to the campaigning dimension of most European IRD-activities as well as the significance of what Tilly/Wood describe as the ‘WUNC displays’ – the public representations of worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment. At the same time, the case analyses also stress the variety of topics of IRD-activities as well as the diversity of tools from the social movement repertoire applied by IRD-actors in different contexts. In other words: The contributions to the present issue suggest that IRD-activities are – at least in part – so diverse that it is hard to identify one general movement.
The case studies rather suggest grasping IRD first of all as a discursive phenomenon. Following e.g. Reiner Keller’s terminology, IRD-activities can be interpreted within the analytic framework of discourse-formations or -coalitions.14 Such an approach proposes to focus upon multiple actors that construct these discourses in public space as well as the respective power-driven processes of inclusion and exclusion, documented by the variety of topics and the wide social movement repertoire. It helps to understand the diversity of IRD-activities in Europe without presupposing communalities of a corporate movement.
As far as the national case analyses of the present issue are concerned, such an approach provides a productive starting point to proceed with the comparison of IRD-activities in European countries.
3 Influences beyond ‘Religious Traditions’ and ‘Religious Pluralization’
As it has been put forward in the introductory paper, the comparison of the present national cases has been organized along the lines of the SMRE – the Swiss Meta-Database of Religious Affiliation in Europe. The compilation of the national case analyses started from the suggestion by Antonius Liedhegener and Anastat Odermatt to distinguish two dimensions of the religious situation in European countries: first, with regards to what Liedhegener & Odermatt call ‘largest religions’: Catholic, Muslim, Non-affiliated, Orthodox, and Protestant; and second with regards to the degrees of religious pluralization: dominant (the largest religion takes a share of 60% or more), fragmented (the largest religion takes a share of 35% or less), and pluralized (the largest group takes a share in between 36% and 59%).15
Only such a systematic comparison makes it possible to demonstrate that these two categories do not provide a sufficient basis to identify patterns of IRD-activities in Europe. On the level of nation-states, it is not possible to understand IRD-activities along the lines of religious traditions. To give but two examples: The situations presented in the papers of Ahmet Alibašić16 (on Bosnia-Herzegovina) as well as Zişan Furat and Hamit Er17 (on Turkey) are too diverse to suggest a ‘Muslim’ approach to IRD. And the same is true with regards to the papers on the two Catholic country-cases (on Switzerland by Hansjörg Schmid and Spain by Mar Griera). They are so divergent that they severely question the existence of a specific approach to IRD within religious traditions.
This can also be said with regards to specific patterns of IRD-activities corresponding to the degree of pluralization. The case studies on those countries the SMRE describes as pluralized (within the context of the present issue these would be: Switzerland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) do not present a pattern that is fundamentally different from those on countries dominated by a specific religious tradition (i.e. Spain, Turkey, Germany (East),18 Serbia, and Denmark). The situation in Denmark is – for example – quite similar to the situation in Sweden or the United Kingdom, whereas the IRD-activities in Turkey are quite different from the activities in Spain.
Especially this second observation adds an interesting twist to present-day analyses of IRD. The introduction to the present issue alluded to the fact that the concept of religious plurality has so far been frequently used as a central category for the analysis of IRD. In a normative way, IRD has been presented as a tool to adequately deal with religious plurality.19 Empirically speaking, it has been argued that IRD presents a reaction to processes of religious pluralization.20 At least with regards to national comparisons in Europe, the present analyses suggest that this seems to be only one part of the picture.
The case analyses propose to add further dimensions to the debate: At first, they suggest to look at regional patterns of religions in public space – in the issue at hand, this refers to Scandinavia as well as the Balkans. The two analyses put forward by Magdalena Nordin (on Sweden) and Lise Galal (on Denmark) both document a vibrant IRD-landscape, dominated by multiple forms of civil society activism that is loosely supported by state-authorities. This seems to stand for a specific approach to IRD that is situated within a context of formal secularization – first with regards to the institutional role of the respective Protestant churches and second with regards to the degree of social differentiation within these countries.
As far as the Balkans are concerned, the case analyses on Bosnia-Herzegovina (by Ahmet Alibašić), North Macedonia (by Gjoko Gjorgjevski) and Serbia (by Angela Ilić) stress the interrelatedness between IRD-activities and national discourses as well as the role of individual IRD-protagonists that have dominated the developments in these countries. This suggests that the similarities among Balkan IRD-activities are based upon the more general processes of socio-cultural transformation that have been characterizing these societies throughout the last two decades. In this regard, they are, for example, closer to the Turkish case (presented by Zişan Furat and Hamit Er) than the situation in Spain or the United Kingdom.
In addition to this, the case analyses have indicated further patterns that can neither be explained by ‘religious tradition’ nor by ‘religious pluralization’ alone: First, the Swiss case (presented by Hansjörg Schmid) and the East German case (presented by Anna Körs and Karsten Lehmann) underline sub-national patterns of IRD-activities shaped by the histories of the churches as well as the legal systems of these countries. They stress to what extent contingent historic developments have been shaping IRD-activities not only on the national level but also on the level of regions and municipalities.
Second, the case analyses from Spain and Scandinavia underline once again the necessity to distinguish different social forms of IRD-activities. These two cases illustrate the heterogeneity of the respective discourse-formations and -coalitions. IRD-activities are not analyzed as national, regional or local surrogates of one single IRD-movement but rather as very distinct social forms of IRD-activities in their respective socio-cultural contexts. In other words: These cases further underline to what extent IRD-activities are the result of multi-layered processes of power-relations.
In total, these observations help to push the contextual analyses even further.
4 Further Dimensions of the Analysis of IRD in Context
It is one of the particular features of the present issue that all its papers are very strong when it comes to systematic reflections. In addition, the two papers by Anne Koch21 and Karsten Lehmann22 have tried to advance the systematic discussion even further by highlighting two dimensions of present-day societies they perceive as central to understand the position of IRD within contemporary European societies:
The paper by Anne Koch (on cosmopolitan modes of governance) adds a new dimension to the most recent strand of IRD-research that approaches IRD-activities as a form of national or local governance of religion.23 With reference to the national case analyses, Koch underlines to what extent IRD-activities have been relating to normative discourses that are perceived as being of global significance. This suggests an understanding of IRD within the context of very specific attempts to formulate cosmopolitan norms and values.
The paper by Karsten Lehmann proposes to link the analysis of IRD-activities to the more recent debates on processes of secularization, as put forward by David Martin, Peter L. Berger and José Casanova.24 Lehmann makes the point that many of the founding publications of IRD-organizations document the perception of its authors that secularization is gaining ground.25 Referring to the case analyses published in the present issue, Lehmann proposes that these perceptions of secularization form the foundation of many IRD-activities in Europe – especially in Scandinavia but also in East Germany, Spain or Turkey.
In combination with the national case analyses and the papers reflecting on the different disciplinary approaches to IRD, these considerations strongly propose to expand the scope of IRD-analyses. They approach IRD as a marker for contingent changes in the public role of religion, and suggest that the analysis of IRD ‘in context’ helps to better understand the position of religion in present-day societies. IRD-activities seem to react to changes in present-day societies – such as processes of secularization or the emergence of new cosmopolitan elites, but also socio-cultural transformations and the new positioning of religions in public space.
An approach to IRD-activities that underlines the socio-cultural changes within present-day societies highlights that dialogue-activities are frequently positioned on the margins of the religious field. In the present issue, this has been made particularly clear with regards to questions of governance – i.e. the relationship between IRD and the political field. The Spanish case as well as the analyses from England and the eastern parts of Germany highlight the interdependencies between dialogue and politics. In these cases, IRD-activities have to be interpreted within the fundamental shifts between religion and politics.
In addition to this, the Swiss case as well as the Danish case have also indicated that IRD can be interpreted with regards to further societal changes – e.g. gender relations and ecological questions. And especially the cases from the transformation-societies have stressed how IRD is positioned on the borders between the religious field and other social fields. The analysis of IRD helps to identify these changes and to analyze them empirically.
More concretely, the present issue suggests that the analysis of IRD helps to identify productive fields for the analysis of religions in Europe. If the analysis is accurate that IRD marks new forms of the positioning of religion in present-day societies, the analysis of IRD helps – first – to understand the complex relations between religion and multifold social fields – not only vis-à-vis politics but also vis-à-vis other social fields such as law, economics, arts, academia etc. The comparative approach of the present issue further underlines the complex situation of religions in present-day Europe. The analysis of IRD-activities might help to add further dimensions to its interpretation.
In any case, the previous analyses underline dynamic changes in the position of religions in European societies. Further analyses of IRD ‘in context’ will contribute to the understanding of these processes.
Karsten Lehmann is a Sociologist (Tübingen) as well as a Scholar of Religions (Lancaster / Bayreuth) by training. Since 2016 he works as Research Professor at the KPH – Kirchliche Pädagogische Hochschule, Wien/Krems as well as Director of the SIR – Special Research Area ‘Interreligiosity’. His fields of interest include: Methods and Theories in the Study of Religion, Religions and international Politics, Religious Plurality in Europe, Interreligious Dialogue.
Alibašić, Ahmet: History of Inter-Religious Dialogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina: From Force-Feeding to Sustainability?, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Berger, Peter L.: The Many Altars of Modernity. Toward a Paradigm for Religion in a Pluralist Age. Boston, MA/Berlin: De Gruyter, 2014.
Casanova, José: Asian Catholicism, Interreligious Colonial Encounters and Dynamics of Secularism in Asia, in: Kenneth Dean/Peter van der Veer (eds.): The Secular in South, East, and Southeast Asia. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, pp. 13–36 (Global Diversities).
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: Casanova, José , in: Asian Catholicism, Interreligious Colonial Encounters and Dynamics of Secularism in Asia (eds.): The Secular in South, East, and Southeast Asia. / Kenneth Dean Peter van der Veer Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, , pp. 2019 13– 36( Global Diversities).
Casanova, José: From Modernization to Secularization to Globalization. An Autobiographical Self-Reflection, in: Simon Coleman/Ramon Sarré (eds.): Religion and Society, Vol 2: Advances in Research. New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 2011, pp. 25–36.
Cornille, Catherine/Corigliano, Stephanie (eds.): Interreligious Dialogue and Cultural Change, Eugene, 2012 (Interreligious Dialogue Series).
Eck, Diana L.: A New Religious America. How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. New York, NY: Harper One, 2001.
Fahy, John/Bock, Jan-Jonathan (eds.): The Interfaith Movement. Mobilising Religious Diversity in the 21st Century (Social Movements in the 21st Century: New Paradigms). Abingdon/New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2020.
Furat, Zişan /Er, Hamit: From Dialogue to Living Together: The Discussions on Inter-Religious Dialogue in Turkey since the Late 1990s, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Griera, Mar: The Many Shapes of Interreligious Relations in Contemporary Spain: Activism, Governance and Diplomacy, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Griera, Mar/Nagel, Alexander-Kenneth: Interreligious Relations and Governance of Religion in Europe. Introduction, in: Social Compass 65 (3/2018), pp. 301–311.
Halafoff, Anna: The Multifaith Movement. Global Risks and Cosmopolitan Solutions. Heidelberg/New York, NY/London: Springer, 2013.
Hefner, Robert W./Hutchinson, John/Mels, Sara/Timmerman, Christiane (eds.): Religions in Movements. The Local and the Global in contemporary Faith Tradition. New York, NY/Milton Park: Routledge, 2013 (Routledge Studies in Religion).
Ilić, Angela: Looking Through a Veil: Challenges and Perspectives of Interreligious Dialogue in Serbia, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Keller, Reiner: Doing Discourse Research. An Introduction for Social Scientists. Los Angeles, CA/London/New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2013, pp. 65–69.
Körs/Lehmann, Interreligious Dialogue (IRD) Activities in East Germany. Low Levels of Activities within Official Organizational Structures, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Liedhegener, Antonius/Odermatt, Anastas: Religious Affiliation as a Baseline for Religious Diversity in Contemporary Europe. Making Sense of Numbers, Wordings, and Cultural Meanings. Lucerne, 2018 (SMRE Working Paper), pp. 31–37.
Martin, David/Catto, Rebecca: The Religious and the Secular, in: Linda Woodhead/Rebecca Catto (eds.): Religion and Change in Modern Britain. London/New York, NY: Routledge, 2012, pp. 373–390.
Molendijk, Arie L.: To Unite Religion Against All Irreligion. The 1893 World Parliament of Religion, in: Journal for the History of Modern Theology/Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte 18 (2/2011), pp. 228–250.
Nagel, Alexander-Kenneth: Religious Pluralization and Interfaith Activism in Germany, in: Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 25 (2/2015), pp. 199–220.
Nordin, Magdalena: How to Understand Interreligious Dialogue in Sweden in Relation to the Socio-Cultural Context, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Nordin, Magdalena: Secularization, Religious Plurality and Position. Local Inter- Religious Cooperation in Contemporary Sweden, in: Social Compass 64 (3/2017), pp. 388–403.
Polak, Regina: Between Theological Ideals and Empirical Realities: Complex Diversity in Interreligious Dialogue – A Catholic Perspective, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Prideaux, Melanie: Legitimising Religion in Public: Interreligious Dialogue and the Established Church in England, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Schmid, Hansjörg: Interreligious Dialogues in Switzerland: A Multiple-Case Study Focusing on Socio-Political Contexts, in: JRAT 6 (2/2020), pp.
Sinn, Simone: Religiöser Pluralismus im Werden. Religionspolitische Kontroversen und theologische Perspektiven von Christen und Muslimen in Indonesien. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014.
Throughout this text, references are made to examples discussed in other articles from this issue of JRAT: Lehmann, Interreligious Dialogue in Context.
Vilà/Freixa/Aneas, Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Education.
Polak, Between Theological Ideals and Empirical Realities.
Schmid, Interreligious Dialogues in Switzerland.
Nordin, How to Understand Interreligious Dialogue in Sweden.
Prideaux, Legitimising Religion in Public.
Griera, The many Shapes of Interreligious Relations.
Galal, Between Representation and Subjectivity.
Furat/Er, From Dialogue to Living Together.
Gjorgievski, Nurturing the Culture of Dialogue – Macedonian Experience.
Ilić, Looking Through a Veil.
Fahy/Bock, The Interfaith Movement; Halafoff, The Multifaith Movement.
Tilly/Wood: Social Movement, pp. 3 et seq; Hefner/Hutchinson/Mels/Timmerman: Religions in Movements.
Keller, Doing Discourse Research, pp. 65–69.
Liedhegener/Odermatt: Religious Affiliation, pp. 31–37. The SMRE identifies only one fragmented country: Germany after the re-unification.
Alibašić, History of Inter-Religious Dialogue in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Furat/Er, From Dialogue to Living Together.
Körs/Lehmann, Interreligious Dialogue (IRD) Activities in East Germany.
Eck, A New Religious America; Cornille/Corigliano, Interreligious Dialogue and Cultural Change.
Nagel, Religious Pluralization; Sinn, Religiöser Pluralismus im Werden; Nordin, Secularization, Religious Plurality and Position.
Koch, Cosmopolitan Modes of Governance of Religious Diversity across Europe.
Lehmann, Interreligious Dialogue – a Response to Processes of Secularization.
Griera/Nagel, Interreligious Relations; Lamine, La Cohabitation des Dieux.
Casanova, From Modernization to Secularization to Globalization; Casanova, Asian Catholicism; Martin, On Secularization; Martin/Catto, The Religious and the Secular; Berger: The Many Altars of Modernity.
Molendijk, To Unite Religion Against All Irreligion.